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Inc42’s Webinar On Freelancing: Helping Students Upskill And Address The Skill Gap


The webinar was part of ‘The Rising Freelance Economy’, a series of webinars by Inc42 in association with PayPal

Upskilling at the pace of technological growth seen as an imperative to succeed

PayPal nurtures the freelancing ecosystem by allowing students to continue freelancing even when employed with the company

India’s population has been growing with each passing census and is expected to account for 17.97% of the global population by 2030, indicating the need to create more jobs to employ the youth.

Although there is a large number of students in India graduating each year, recruiters increasingly feel that there are skill gaps in the crop of existing candidates.

Freelancing as a career option enables students to upskill and get an early start in their careers while also completing their education. This has led to a flourishing freelancing sector in India which also has the highest number of freelancers in the world — a whopping 10 Mn!

To understand the growing trend of freelancing in India, Inc42, in association with PayPal, is conducting a series of webinars titled —The Rising Freelance Economy. These webinars aim to throw light on the different trends in freelancing, whether it is breaking away from a regular job, or women taking up freelancing.

Inc42’s latest webinar — Freelancing For Students 101: Upskill For Brighter Career Prospects — focused on why freelancing is important for students and how they can leverage freelancing to stay in touch with the latest technology and stay ahead of the game.

The guests — Sanyam Bhutani, a final year Computer Science student at SRM, Chennai, who’s also an Udemy Mentor and a deep learning (part of machine learning) freelancer and V Chandramouliswaran, Senior Director, Enterprise Data Services, PayPal — shared insights on freelancing and the hiring scenario for the technology sector.

Watch The Full Webinar Here

PayPal: Supporting Students Freelancers In Their Quest To Succeed

To support the rising trend of student freelancers in India, companies need to support them. PayPal, in its quest to support students, has been taking numerous initiatives like conducting hackathons and interacting with students through various forums about what it is doing at the workplace, infrastructure that it leverages and the scale at which it operates.

Apart from regular internships, PayPal has also started a series of offline internships that students can pursue while they are at the university. PayPal also intends to boost the potential job market by hiring university students every year and this year itself, it has hired 100 students from various campuses.

PayPal even allows its employees, to continue freelancing while they are employed as long as it does not conflict with their roles within the company.

Excerpts from the webinar:

Inc42: What got you into freelancing?

Sanyam Bhutani: I started out in engineering with the idea that I was not interested in theoretical lessons; I wanted to do computer science, wanted to build things…so, as a fresher, my focus was not on college alone, but on attending workshops, seminars, online courses. By the time I was in my third year, I had already done about more than 50 online courses and I had attended over 25 workshops.

I graduated with a few nano degrees and became an established tech blogger with more than 100K people reading my blog; I was a top writer in the self-driven cars category. I have done internships at ONGC, IIT-Roorkee, and IIT-Madras.

So, there was this hunger to find more places to grow and to get more experience and that is how freelancing clicked.

Inc42: Why do you think freelancing is important for your career trajectory in future?

Sanyam Bhutani: I am highly interested in data science, so any online course or anything that I do has something to do with data science. It is important as I am working as a freelancer in the domain of machine learning (ML). I have founded a new company that goes by the name of NeuroAscent with the same goal — to make me a better practitioner. Hopefully, this will be my career trajectory for now.

Inc42: Can you tell us what’s the reason for your success in this short span of time?

Sanyam Bhutani: I have always been seeking knowledge outside the curriculum. We have a curriculum, which, for better or worse, isn’t very cutting-edge, especially in artificial intelligence (AI). So, my basic source of knowledge was online communities and resources. I am grateful to these communities, to everyone who answers my questions on these forums and to the nano-degrees I have.

Inc42: Freelancing as a student helps recruiters fill the skill gap a fresher comes with. Do you think freelancing in college is important in that sense?

Sanyam Bhutani: I believe, yes, it is. I get to work on real-life projects that are going to be deployed somewhere, and these are projects a seasoned practitioner with years of experience himself might be looking at. So, this is surely a plus for experience. I won’t paint the wrong picture because it’s not always sunshine and rainbows; often, I am competing with guys who have experience more than my age. So, it does help, but it is definitely challenging.

Inc42: Do you think freelancing should be made a part of the curriculum in the final year of college to help students in their first jobs?

Sanyam Bhutani: An engineer is a person who engineers something, and not someone who simply learns how to engineer something. So, if you are working on any real-life projects, then I think it really helps. When freelancing, you could be working on a million-dollar scenario which has a high level of expectation. I have been working with these strict expectations, and I think it definitely helps you to differentiate yourself from the crowd.

Inc42: In terms of existing and emerging technology, which areas do you think have the highest potential for an aspiring freelancer?

Sanyam Bhutani: I think any job that can be outsourced, which does not require you to be onsite, can be handed out to freelancers. I believe that the scope is wide.

Inc42: In your experience of having worked with global teams, how much prior freelance experience do you think really helps freshers?

V Chandramouliswaran: All of us work in very competitive environments, we are all trying to create something that is going to be great. So, with competition that high, a lot of companies invest in freshers. A lot of freshers do well in their courses, but freelancing acts as a differentiator.

When we interview freshers with some experience, their answers are much more realistic and grounded; they come up with actual solutions, so it helps a great deal.

University curriculum is slightly dated and the world is changing fast. Today, people talk about blockchain, artificial intelligence, machine learning, etc. How many courses teach you these, especially from a practical perspective? This is where there is a gap and exactly where freelancing helps.

Inc42: Do you think curricula have evolved over the years?

V Chandramouliswaran: Yes, I think universities today are much more proactive. I have been part of many conversations where professors reach out to the industry and say, ‘What should we be doing in the curriculum today?’, be it a computer science department, a statistics department, or a science school. A lot of conversations happen where they invite industries to contribute to the curriculum.

The challenge is always how you can find a professor who is qualified enough from a perspective of thinking realistically — that is where the challenge or gap is.

Inc42: Talking specifically about data and analytics, which seem to be the buzzword today, what sort of freelancing experience comes in handy?

V Chandramouliswaran: Data and analytics are naturally suited for freelancing because as long as a company has data which can be anonymised and shared, you can have somebody sitting remotely who can do the analytics. So, I think purely from a problem-solving space, it is very well suited to freelancing. In a space like this, a fresh perspective is what differentiates when you try to solve a problem that is not new to the company. This is where people who do a lot of self-learning are aware of the current trends and technologies and are aware of approaches that bring in that fresh perspective.

Inc42: On one side there is the exponential growth of technology and on the other side we have the world’s youngest workforce in India. Will technology take over a lot of jobs of today?

V Chandramouliswaran: Technology usually has a hype cycle. When GPS (global positioning system) came in 1978, the belief was that GPS was going to become a de-facto standard for a lot of things, but the first real application for GPS came in 1991. Today, GPS is the front and centre of our lives and this is the hype cycle of technology.

So, today, we are probably in the early stages of technology such as artificial intelligence and machine learning…there is a long way to go before these technologies replace workers or the workforce.

I think a huge opportunity exists and what the current generation must do is equip to new things that are going around them.

Audience: How good is freelancing as compared to a regular job?

V Chandramouliswaran: If you are someone who has varied interests, freelancing gives you an opportunity to keep exploring those interests, and this is also a way to not get boxed in. So, if you join a company, there are certain goals for the company, and your projects and work rewards are based on those goals. You can’t say ‘I will work on deep learning’ if the company is not doing it. Freelancing will give u multiple things. That flexibility will be harder to get in a larger company.

You must have seen global companies saying they don’t believe in education or degrees; this is where freelancing helps you in differentiating yourself. It actually gives you a rock-solid experience you can rely on, which is probably more valuable than a degree, in terms of you bringing real-life experiences to the workplace. The fact that you have explored multiple areas is an asset and shows that you are someone who likes to experiment.

In fact, there are companies that are running rotation programs, that want to give people an opportunity to explore what they can work on and we at PayPal are trying to create this too.

(This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.)

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